Since movie theaters have taken a reluctant hiatus for the past year (thanks, Covid, ya’ jerk), home theaters are becoming more popular now than ever before. As a result, many of us are coming to realize our home speaker systems may be a little out of date.
Since “upgrade” is the word of the day, we’ll take a look at some of the best home theater speakers available in 2021.
First, I’ve decided to share some info on speaker guts and jargon so you can follow along while reading the rest of this comprehensive speaker guide! After the gang lists some of our top speaker picks, be sure to stick around for a crash course on the anatomy of a home theater system, things to consider while you’re shopping around for speakers, and some tips on how to best set up your speakers in your home.
If you already know what you’re doing on all fronts and have tested out of those areas – congrats!
If not, consider this a study guide for Home Theater 101. Let’s get started with some basic terms to help you interpret the specs in our lovely list of products.
Types of Home Theater Speakers
Still with me? Great!
The form of speaker you choose for your home theater depends upon your space, budget, tastes, etc. Regardless of what you prefer, it’s best if they’re all from the same manufacturer. Or at the very least, are comparable in quality and performance. (But really, the same manufacturer is best.)
Here are some common types of home theater speakers.
Floor-Standing, or “Tower” Speakers
Most audiophiles say including a couple of floor-standing speakers in your system is non-negotiable for the best surround-sound experience, as they feature all three (or more) drivers projecting beautiful sound from one handsome cabinet. I tend to agree – but maybe that’s because it’s how my system is set up at home. And I love my speakers.
Check out our post on Floor Standing Speakers to see what all the fuss is about.
Most rooms in average houses don’t have space for a whole sound system equipped entirely with floor-standing speakers (unless you’re a Kardashian or something), so the next best option would be in the bookshelf category.
Bookshelf speakers can function just fine as rear surround speakers and front channel speakers, with more flexibility for where you place them as long as you have shelf space or stands for them. The only problem is that most are two-way speakers, which cuts down on the exciting sound effects your woofer would cover. Imagine Die-Hard without the explosions. That would suck.
There is, however, a solution to that problem in the form of a subwoofer. Stick around; we’ll talk more about subwoofers and the magic they can do for you further down in this article.
Wireless speakers use Wi-Fi instead of wired cables to send an audio signal from a compatible receiver. Their upside is their portability, and many wireless speakers are quality enough to use with a surround-sound home theater system. But similar to bookshelf speakers, they’re a little lacking in the sound-spectrum department. And as with any wireless device, interference in sound quality is common.
The Sound Bar
Soundbars are extremely popular these days, both as an addition to a home theater system and on their own. They’re relatively inexpensive and do a great job of amplifying and refining the sound quality of your TV and/or any audio devices you’ll use with your system.
Even though most soundbars have excellent sound quality, they won’t provide the same range you’ll get from a floor-standing speaker or the surround-sound capabilities of multiple bookshelf or wireless speakers. But when included in a home theater ensemble, they function beautifully and add to sound depth. For what it’s worth, I use one in my home system as a center channel speaker and I love it.
Time to look at some examples of these speakers and explore different bundle options. Let’s go shopping!
6 Best Home Theater Speakers (Reviewed)
1. Best For Audiophile Quality: Klipsch RP-280F 3.0 Home Theater System Bundle
So. Pretty. These are number one on my wish list, for sure. This system features:
- Two floor-standing front speakers featuring two 8″ woofers and a Hybrid Tractrix horn (hang on, I’ll explain)
- One center channel speaker with four 5.25″ woofers and a hybrid cross-section Tractrix horn
All the drivers featured in this system are cerametallic – a ceramic/brass hybrid that improves performance and damping due to its superior stiffness over standard metallic drivers.
The speakers’ tweeters and mid-range channels are handled by Hybrid Tractrix horns, a flared design created to provide better sound emergence with fewer soundwave refractions, providing more intense, natural sound.
Some may say this is a pricey bundle, especially since it only features three speakers and no subwoofer, but the quality of the three speakers you do get is well worth the cost and the extra effort of shopping for a sub.
I’ll expand upon this philosophy later in the section on things to consider when buying your system – but IMHO, when it comes to assembling your home theater system, quality trumps quantity any day. Even if it means sacrificing a speaker or two at first.
2. Best for Mixing Components: Polk Audio T Series 5 Channel Home Theater Bundle
If you’re building your home theater system from the speakers up or if you already have a subwoofer, this is a great option to help you get started. This bundle comes with five speakers designed to provide you with everything you’ll need to begin a basic 5.1 setup:
- Two floor-standing tower speakers, each featuring a 1″ tweeter, 6.5″ midrange driver, and two 6.5″ woofers.
- One center channel speaker with a 1″ tweeter and two 5.25″ drivers designed to balance high and low-frequency sounds without a designated woofer.
- A pair of wall-mountable bookshelf speakers, each featuring one 0.75″ tweeter and one 5.25″ balance driver.
Note: Again, this system doesn’t feature a subwoofer. That can be an excellent thing if you already have a perfect compatible sub or if you would like to invest in a quality sub separately. (Just like a diamond, a fantastic subwoofer is forever.)
3. Best Basic 5.1 System: Elac 5.1 System
If you want something comprehensive, compatible, and relatively inexpensive, this is it. This low maintenance bundle includes:
- Two floor-standing three-way speakers, each with one 1″ tweeter, one 5.25″ midrange driver, and two 5.25″ woofers.
- One 2-way center channel speaker with a 1″ tweeter and two 5.25″ woofers
- Two 2-way bookshelf speakers, each featuring a 1″ tweeter and two 5.25″ woofers
- A 12″ Subwoofer
The bookshelf speakers in this set are not wall mountable, so you’ll need to grab some compatible stands or find a spot for them somewhere behind you at ear-level. Somewhere like, oh, I don’t know, a bookshelf or something.
4. Best Wireless Bundle: Enclave CineHome PRO 5.1
Ok, full disclosure – I’ve never worked with a wireless home theater system before. I don’t have one, none of my friends have one, and no one in my family has one, so I relied on the kindness of strangers to answer my questions and give feedback about it. Now that that’s out of the way…
This bundle relies upon the soundbar to connect to a TV or receiver and pair up the speakers. In this case, the soundbar also acts as a center channel speaker.
So the bundle contains five speakers (including the soundbar) with fourteen drivers between them all. That’s more than usual between five speakers. Still, the drivers’ size is unclear. As the speaker’s dimensions are pretty narrow, I’m guessing they’ve included an extra driver in the soundbar serving as a secondary woofer to enhance the bass.
- Two three-way speakers
- Two two-way speakers
- One four-way soundbar
- One 10″ subwoofer
All of the speakers in this system are wall mountable, which makes sense, as the main reason most people purchase a wireless system is to get everything up and out of the way with as little clutter as possible.
The only complaint I heard was the system isn’t the easiest to set up, but really, no complex networked wireless thing is. As far as sound quality, thumbs up all around. Which you don’t always hear about a wireless system, so there’s that.
5. Best Budget 5.1 System: JBL Cinema 610 Advanced 5.1
If you don’t mind foregoing the benefits (and the bulk and price) of tower speakers, this is a nice little setup! Besides, I know plenty of people who took a chance on systems, primarily featuring satellite speakers, and I have yet to hear any complaints. Of course, that has everything to do with what you want from it. (More on that later.)
The box includes everything you need for a small, but complete system:
- Five two-way satellite speakers (including a center channel speaker)
- An 8″ subwoofer
- Customized wall mounts
The price is more than reasonable, and I don’t see why this wouldn’t be a perfect surround sound system for an apartment, bedroom, or even… wait for it… a gaming room. My kids would never come out.
6. Best for Tiny Spaces (2.1): Bose CineMate GS Series II Home Theater Speaker System
This system packs a lot of sound in a tiny package, so if you’re running low on square footage or just want something a little less conspicuous in the design department, this is a great option.
It comes with two compact front speakers and an Acoustimass module (subwoofer) that connects directly to your TV. It also comes with a programmable universal remote, so you don’t need a separate remote for your audio and video components. Easy peasy.
Home Theater Speakers Jargon
Wireless subwoofer, ceiling speaker, and surround sound experience, oh my!
So much rhetoric. But that’s ok. We can consolidate the info. Here, I’ll explain a little bit about what home theater speakers are made of and the different forms they take. (And after this, we get to go speaker shopping!)
Basic Home Theater Speaker Components
At their core, the components that make up a home theater speaker are about the same as other kinds of speakers. In the interest of avoiding boring you to death, I’ve pared it down to the essentials:
A speaker driver’s function is simple – convert transmitted audio frequencies to the sound waves that come out of the speaker. So we can hear them and stuff.
There are three kinds of internal drivers:
- Tweeters, which are responsible for higher frequency transmissions. These allow you to hear higher-pitched sounds.
- Mid-range drivers, which support mid-ranged frequencies. The human voice and most instruments fall into this category.
- Woofers, which handle lower frequency sounds like rumbling thunder or a thumping bassline.
Depending upon how many drivers it has, speakers can be classified as two-way, three-way, or four-way:
- Two-way speakers feature a tweeter and a woofer, and the two must meet in the middle to share mid-range driver frequencies.
- Three-way speakers contain a tweeter, woofer, and a mid-range driver.
- Four-way speakers feature an extra tweeter to enhance the speaker’s upper-range frequencies. Some swear it makes a difference. Some don’t. We’ll leave that up to you.
All speakers need a crossover filter device to deliver the different sound frequencies to the correct drivers. It’s like a mail carrier (the crossover) receives the mail (sound signals) and delivers it to the right houses (drivers). Hopefully, that didn’t just confuse the heck out of you.
The Speaker Cabinet
The cabinet is the shell that contains the drivers and crossover filter. Depending upon the speaker’s form, the structure and materials that make up a cabinet can be very different. A speakers’ cabinet can (and often does) affect its’ sound quality, for better or worse.
Anatomy of a Home Theater System
You think you know what kind of speakers you want to use for your home theater system, but of course, you’ll need more than that to get an entire home theater system rolling. Let’s talk about the most common sizes and break down the bits and pieces of a home theater system.
First Things First – What System Size Should I Get?
You’ve seen all kinds of numbers thrown around while shopping for home theater systems. Let’s take a second to touch on what are the most common and what it means.
Real quick – the number before the decimal indicates the number of actual speakers the system has, and the number after indicates how many subwoofers it has. While most boxed systems feature one sub, larger systems like a 7.2 channel surround system feature seven speakers and two subwoofers. Awesome. Expensive but awesome.
- 5.1 – Channel Surround
This is the most common configuration because it will work just fine in most rooms while creating an authentic surround-sound experience. It’s also the least expensive. This system includes two front speakers, a center channel speaker, a sub, and two rear speakers.
- 6.1 – Channel Surround
6.1 contains all of the same components of a 5.1 system but includes an additional rear center channel speaker. So three speakers in the front, three in the back, and a subwoofer.
- 7.1 – Channel Surround
These systems feature two front speakers, a center channel speaker, a sub, two rear speakers, and one speaker on each side of your viewing area. So seven speakers and a sub.
What Do I Need to Assemble a Home Theater System?
- A Video Source
TV, monitor, projector, etc. Pretty straightforward. (And in our humble opinion – the bigger, the better.)
- AV Receiver
The receiver acts to amplify and adjust the signals from the audio/video sources you’re using and transmit them through the speakers. A receiver also acts as a switch between multiple components you may be using within your system, such as a Blu-ray player, turntable, cable box, etc. You can also listen to actual radio stations on some receivers. Remember those?
You can choose an all-in-one AV receiver or opt to splurge on three separate components that break down an all-in-one receiver’s functions. Some say that using separates makes a considerable difference in sound quality and realism, but they take up a lot of space and can get pretty pricey. For most people, an all-in-one does the job just fine.
It goes without saying that speakers are essential. By now (if you’ve been paying attention), you already know what’s in a speaker and what types of speakers are commonly found in a home theater system.
How many speakers you use and where you choose to place them directly impacts the quality of your home theater experience. We’ll talk about those options a little later in this article when choosing your speakers and discussing speaker placement tips. Stay tuned!
If you want that balanced, movie-quality sound, a subwoofer is a must-have. Especially if you’re using two-way speakers. (Remember, they don’t have woofers?)
Some opt to add two for optimal bass response, even with plenty of three-way speakers. Sometimes, spaces with an open floor plan can benefit from an extra subwoofer. We’ll get into that later.
Since they emit non-directional frequencies, you can place a subwoofer anywhere as long as you can network it (wirelessly or otherwise), and it’ll still offer adequate bass coverage throughout the room.
In my opinion, cables are a big deal. If you don’t want to learn about cables and listen to a detailed rant about why they’re important, skip this section. Just let it be known – I am in no way, shape, or form responsible for any disappointment and inconvenience you experience from choosing crappy cables because you didn’t know your cable ABCs.
- Number One Key Point- Use quality cables! It’s so important- there’s no use in investing in a great home theater system if the cables you purchase do a sub-par job because they’re cheaply made.
- Look for cables made from copper, silver, or gold. These are the metals with the best conductivity, with gold being the best (and most expensive). Measure the distance between your components to ensure the cables are the correct size and length to connect them adequately.
- Understand the types and purposes of your cables. To connect your home theater system, you’ll need both audio and video cables, and what kind you need will depend entirely on the features of your system’s components. Most audio and video devices are digital these days. They hence will use digital audio and video cables (most commonly HDMI), but there are occasions where you may need analog cables (like RCA audio or coaxial RF video cables). Like if you’re using older devices or an older receiver, for example.
- Do your homework. Always consult your equipment manuals for the types of input and output connectors they have to determine what cables you’ll need.
Like cables, the types and quality of speaker wire you use can make a big difference.
Unless you’re going completely wireless (I don’t know if that’s the best route for the best sound quality, but you do you), after determining where you want to place your speakers, use a cord or string to get an accurate measurement of the distances you’re working with. This will help you figure out how much wire you’ll require. (Rhyming!)
Speaker wires come in different thicknesses (gauges), the thickest being 12 gauge and 18 being the thinnest.
Because of their lower resistance, thicker gauges (12 and 14) carry signals better over long distances. They also are best suited for low impedance speakers and setups with higher power usage. (Impedance measures what kind of load the speaker can take from the amplifier, you’ll find it in the list of specs.)
Thinner 16 and 18 gauge wires are designed to handle shorter distanced connections (less than fifty feet), and they work pretty well with higher impedance speakers.
- A Surge Protector
A quality surge protector is so important. One stupid surge can ruin your whole system. And guess what? Most manufacturers’ warranties don’t cover that. Bleh.
- Mounting Hardware/Shelving if Necessary
Gather up any brackets and hardware you’ll need if you’re mounting your speakers on the walls or ceiling. You may need shelving for a soundbar or central channel speaker if you have a wall-mounted TV.
What to Consider When Choosing A Home Theater Speaker System
Not all systems and speakers are created equal, and the kind you choose depends on various factors.
- What do you want from it?
Do you want the kind of sound you’ll only find in a theater where you can hear a fly land on a cloud? If so, you may be in for an expensive (and complicated) ride. Also, I want an invite to your next movie night.
Or are you pretty happy with a setup that separates the frequencies, distributes them around the room accordingly, and gets them to your earholes in the proper succession according to the movie you’re watching?
Personally, I never really felt the need to hear a fly land on a cloud, but that could change. Whatever you choose, you’ll find zero judgment here.
- How complex do you want to get?
More complex systems often feature more components, for example, the multiple sub-woofers and AV receiver separates we mentioned earlier.
In addition to those kinds of extras, some components now support advanced audio technologies like Dolby Atmos, which is fabulous. Still, it can get tricky because all (or most) of your sound system’s components need to be compatible and support it.
Oh, and by the way, you’ll want HDMI 2.0 connectors for it, too. Just had to throw that in there. Don’t scrimp on the cables, folks.
Also, that technology won’t do you any good if you don’t get a speaker system sophisticated enough to best support the 3D sound distribution that Dolby Atmos offers.
However, if you’re all good with a more moderate setup, the essential components we outlined when we talked about what you’ll need to assemble a home theater system will do the job splendidly. The types of speakers and how many you have will probably end up on the conservative side, too. Or not. Again, no judgment. Up to you.
- How much space do you have?
Do the best you can with what you’ve got! There’s no reason you can’t turn your 900 square foot apartment into a technological marvel that yields outstanding sound quality. Other than angry neighbors, but they’re just jealous.
Smaller, strategically placed speakers can work wonders in a room, especially if they’re good quality and are paired with quality components. Check out the wireless system or the tiny Bose system we included in our list – they’re perfect for small spaces.
As we mentioned above, if your living space is larger and you have a big open floor plan, the kind of speakers you choose should accommodate that. Three-way floor-standing speakers complemented by a subwoofer or two are best to begin with because they yield better clarity and projection, which you’ll need more of in larger spaces. Then you can add on bookshelves or satellites if you wish to fill in the sound.
If you don’t have enough floor space but have an open space floor plan, like a loft, for instance, you can settle for two-way speakers. But be sure to invest in a great subwoofer. Adding a soundbar to that setup would make it even better.
- How much do you want to spend?
Jeez, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of home theater swag. I know I’m guilty of it. But there’s no reason to go bankrupt and spend a bunch of dough on a crazy huge setup. You can get an impressive system together at a reasonable price by spending money on fewer, more quality basics.
It’s not the world’s most popular opinion, but if we’re being honest, in most cases, the bulk of your sound quality will come from the front speakers and subwoofer(s). Satellite speakers are nice, but if you’re working with a budget, prioritize your money around a quality subwoofer and front speakers. You can always add more surround and/or satellite speakers later when you have the dough to get nice ones.
Don’t get mean, audio snobs. My reasoning is this: if you’re on a budget and you buy a bunch of cheap satellite speakers because you feel that more is better, regardless of how many you have, your home theater experience will probably sound garbagey. I know, garbagey isn’t a word. But it should be.
Tips to Setup Your Home Theater
How you set up your theater is a personal matter according to your tastes. Here are my thoughts on the subject.
On the Topic of Speaker Placement/Positioning
We’ve already addressed the differences in how you’ll probably want to stage your speakers when working with enclosed space vs. an open floor plan, so let’s get cover some consistent best practices for every kind of room.
- Front-Facing Speaker Placement
99% of systems will be staged around a sofa or chair in front of the TV. This is why the front left and right speakers are a good starting point.
Depending upon the width of your room, you want to set them far enough apart and angle them slightly toward the center point (said sofa or chair). If you imagine what the sound waves coming from both speakers look like, they should create an arrow pointing at you.
The front speakers should fall with the tweeters at ear-level while you’re seated. Floor-standing speakers will probably be tall enough for that as is, but if you’re working with bookshelf speakers, you’ll need stands or shelves.
- Center Channel Speaker Placement
We mentioned soundbars earlier in this article, and if ever there was a good option for a center speaker, that’s it. If you don’t go with a system that includes a soundbar, it’s all good; the rules for staging a center channel speaker are the same.
Position the center speaker either directly above or below your TV, angled toward your face. If you place it above the TV, you’ll probably have to tilt it down, depending upon the height. If it’s below the TV, angle it upwards. You get the idea.
If your TV is huge or you’ve hung it over your fireplace so you don’t have room to fit the center speaker above or below it – get a smaller TV or put it somewhere else. If you have to perch your center speaker laterally to the left or right of the TV, it isn’t a center speaker anymore, and it absolutely will affect the quality of sound.
- Rear Speaker Placement
The rear speakers should mimic the front-facing speakers’ positioning, only at the back of your head. If you’re not going with floor-standing speakers for your rear speakers, you can mount them in the corners, but placing them on stands is a better option to keep them as close to ear level as possible. Either way, they should remain unimpeded by furniture or other obstacles in the room.
- Side Speaker Placement
Where you put these depends upon the shape of your room. Most people don’t use floor standing speakers as side speakers, mainly because too many floor standing speakers can get awkward. Unless you have a space designed around them, they probably won’t fit into the flow of your home decor. As a result, most side speakers end up mounted higher up on the walls or placed on pedestals.
- Satellite Speaker Placement
Satellite speakers are often added to a system after the fact when you’ve had a chance to test it out and get a feel for how it sounds in the room. If there are any noticeable gaps in the sound, you can fill them in with satellite speakers. If you’ve invested in a system that supports cutting-edge audio technology like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, quality satellite speakers can create an even more immersive experience.
- Subwoofer Placement
Ol’ reliable. A subwoofer is so impactful on your home theater system’s functionality, and it doesn’t ask for a lot of coddling in return. Subwoofers will work for you anywhere – most people put them on a shelf somewhere or at the front of the room by the center channel speaker. If you want a more profound bass experience, try placing it near a corner at the meeting of two or three walls to give it some surface to bounce from.
All That’s Left is the Snacks!
It’s safe to say that modern home speaker systems aren’t the same speakers your grandpa had in his living room. Unless your grandpa is super tech-savvy, in which case, that’s awesome.
The speakers we’ve listed among our faves should give you a head start on choosing a brand and the specific functions you’d like them to perform. There’s a lot to read up on, and hopefully, we’ve made it a little easier to decide what’s best for you and your listening needs.
Now go binge that Netflix series like a BOSS.
*TIP: Save THIS PIN to your Home board on Pinterest and get back to this post later*